A Geometric Inlay

Several people took notice of the geometric inlay on the base of the George Hoff clock and case dated 1768 shown in the previous post on “A Collector’s Vision: Highlights from the Dietrich American Foundation”, and asked about the related inlay on the wardrobe – or schrank – I mentioned in an answer to a comment. 

It is unusual that none of the three elements that make up the design have a vertical or horizontal orientation. This is true of the similar inlay on the two related schranks. The effect is clearly intentional, but why this is so, or where the inspiration for the design comes from is still a mystery. After preliminary research and discussion with other furniture historians, I’m at a loss for the associations the design would have had for the furniture maker or the owners of this furniture. If anyone has a resource for this design they would like to share, I would gladly cite them in future articles apropos the clock!

Below are images of the three objects with this inlaid design. On the clock case, the design is executed in pewter stringing and crossbanded veneer. On the two schranks the inlay is accomplished by molten sulfur being poured into channels cut in the wood, then leveled when cooled and hardened.

Tall clock. Movement signed George Hoff. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1768. Cherry, red mulberry, black walnut, yellow poplar, with pewter and mixed wood inlay. Detail of base.
Schrank, made for Johannes and Anna Kauffmann, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1766. Walnut and sulfur inlay with tulip poplar and oak; brass, iron. H. 89 (Courtesy, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Museum of Pennsylvania; photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Detail of the Schrank in the previous slide. (Photo, Gavin Ashworth.)
Schrank, made for Emanuel and Mary Herr, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1768. Walnut and sulfur inlay with tulip poplar. (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum; photo, Laszlo Bodo.)
Detail of the Schrank in the previous slide. (Courtesy, Winterthur Museum; photo, Laszlo Bodo.)


4 thoughts on “A Geometric Inlay

  1. Hi, Chris,

    Thanks, as always, for posting such intriguing material.

    The same geometric design is incorporated in a house blessing plaque dated 1820 from North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. It was shown in last year’s exhibition at Glencairn Museum and is illustrated as figure 19 in their newsletter:


    Warm wishes,


    • Jay, thanks for this reference. There is indeed a relationship in the compass drawn designs. The house Blessing plaque shows how this design could be generated and further enriched. However the house blessing has a true horizontal and vertical orientation. You begin to create this design by drawing true vertical line and another line at 90 degrees. Then the compass work begins. This is true of “Mariner’s Star’s” and Celtic knots. But what is unusual is rotating the design 5 to 10 degrees off vertical as seen in the clock and shrank designs. Why was this done? And why the different degrees of rotation and orientation of the design across these three objects? This off-center rotation is what I’ve not seen before.


  2. The motif, with its intentional list is obviously a recurring theme and must have some significance. I am not familiar with it.

    However, in your previous post, A Collector’s Vision: Highlights from the Dietrich American Foundation, I queried the originality of the inlaid motif on the tall clock as, to me, it appears very crudely executed. I therefore assumed it was by the hand of another at a later date – perhaps a follower of a group whose emblem he admired.

    The tall clock inlay is quite different to that of the Schranks you picture in this post.


    • Yes, two different inlay techniques. The inlay on the base panel of the clock looks crude, cruder than that on the door say, because there has been a fair amount of repair work in the past. Numerous section of the pewter stringing have been replaced by stringing that does not match the original in thickness and that is also of uneven thickness. Some of the original stringing is compromised and sections of the wood crossbanding have been replaced in a less sophisticated manner than the original work. The are repairs to the inlay on the door as well.


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